Every week since the start of school this fall, a Bangor High School social studies class held over Zoom has been disrupted by pornographic images, audio and video, according to multiple students who attend the class.
It started with someone disrupting the class held twice weekly by sending sexually inappropriate photos using the chat function on the video-conferencing program. One day, the Zoom bomber played audio files containing profanities. Finally, on Monday, the Zoom class was disrupted by a participant who played a six-minute porn video.
That makes inappropriate disruptions of virtual classes a much more serious problem than Assistant Superintendent Kathy Harris-Smedberg believed on Monday, when she said the incident earlier that day was the only case of “Zoom bombing” that Bangor students had experienced in remote lessons this semester.
High school administrators, however, have been aware of several cases and have previously suspected outside hacking, according to emails they sent to parents.
“I was not made aware of some of these [incidents],” Harris-Smedberg, who will become the city’s interim superintendent at the start of November, said Tuesday. “Obviously, going from believing that there was only incident to knowing that there’s been a number more is concerning.”
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In early October, Assistant Principal Brian Doyle told a parent who had complained about her child’s name being used to Zoom bomb classes that new safety protocols would make virtual classes more secure.
Administrators believed someone from outside the school had used the student’s name to gain access to classes, Doyle told the parent in an email obtained by the Bangor Daily News.
The security protocols Bangor has since instituted for Zoom classes have included making them password-protected. Once students enter the password, they end up in a virtual waiting room before the teacher admits them into the class. For students to enter a virtual classroom, their names have to be on the class roster.
Bangor is not unique in its problems with Zoom bombing. Virtual meeting disruptions have happened all over the world as use of the video-conferencing app has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic. Often, trolls have disrupted meetings and classes with pornography or racial slurs. A Zoom meeting of the Bath City Council in April, for example, ended abruptly after it was disrupted by pornographic images and profane language.
A 16-year-old Bangor High School student has witnessed Zoom bombing in his virtual gym class as well as the social studies class.
“It’s disturbing to be doing your work and then have to deal with poronographic Zoom bombs,” said the student, who did not want to be identified because of potential retaliation from other students. “Whoever is doing it obviously thinks it’s funny, but it’s not. It’s disruptive and upsetting.”
Another student, whose name has been used to Zoom bomb the class, said a lot of times the class simply ends and students don’t have a chance to ask questions.
In an email to parents on Monday, Principal Paul Butler said the school believed a student had shared the password to the virtual class with another student. Students have been asked multiple times not to share passwords, and Harris-Smedberg said the person responsible for the Zoom bombings, once found, will face repercussions.
“When we find the person that is doing this, of course there would be disciplinary action,” she said. “If it’s something that we feel that we would have to bring in the school resource officer for, we definitely also do that.”
The school department is looking to move away from Zoom to another video-conferencing platform, such as Google Meet, to conduct online classes.